Murder on the Orient Express

I haven’t been writing here, but I have been binge-watching tv and film mysteries and reading , of course.  It’s easier than writing. I do have ideas now. The first, involves Dame Agatha’s Murder on the Orient Express. Be advised that there will be spoilers. I’ve read the book and watched the two film adaptations. I was surprised that the film featuring Albert Finney and a Superstar cast was true to the book in presentation and tone.  The ITV film was more moody and tense and I think a better work than the other two.

Everybody is familiar with this work, which takes its main premise from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and asks what if the known culprit escaped justice, and those most effected by the crime sought their own justice.  From the start of the book and the 1974 movie, one feels that the murder of Ratchett, a great name for a villain (remember Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), is not a disturbing event to any involved, but there must be an investigation to present to the local authorities. The perpetrators of the crime provided an explanation. They are after all civilized people. Evidence is found indicating a man boarded the train dressed as a conductor, killed Rachette , and fled the train leaving his conductor suit behind. Poirot is not impressed with this evidence or the story it seems to tell. In the earlier movie, Poirot acts  more upset by the fact that people are attempting to deceive him, Hercule Poirot, than the covering up of the murder. In the book, Poirot accepts the deception as the consequence of improvisation in the face of a plan that fell foul of two events, a snow drift delaying the train and the misfortune of Poirot being on the train. In the end, the imaginary murderer is blamed and in the movie that decision is toasted with champagne.

The David Suchet movie produced by ITV towers over the book and earlier movie in that Poirot struggles with what to do about these vigilantes.  He is a strong supporter of official justice  and a dedicated Catholic. Even though he understands that justice was denied in the Armstrong case, he struggles to decide what is the right thing to do. An episode prior to boarding the Orient Express also plays a part in his struggle. Both he and Mary Debham, the brains behind the plan to kill Ratchette, witness a woman being stoned to death. Debham is outraged. Poirot doesn’t approve but sees the cultural context.

So, in the end, Poirot tells the local authorities the killer has fled the train. He then turns away from his fellow travelers, clutching hard his rosary between his fingers, and fighting back bitter tears. He has accepted the context of the Orient Express 12, but not without cost to his self-image as a moral paragon. I remembered this scene when several episodes later, Poirot delivers his own vigilante justice in Curtain.

I strongly recommend the David Suchet versions of all things Poirot. His performances are wonderful and the writing is consistently superior. I’m not trying shade Dame Agatha. I recently read and watched And then There Were None and enjoyed them both. There was edge to the writing which was reflected in the movie.

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